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Diversity, take two

February 23, 2008

We have these group dinners every two weeks.  First year pchem students are the official invites, though some random other people always show, rounding out the attendance to around a dozen.  Last night it was up at vdc, which is a bit of a hike from my place carrying a hot pot full of stew, so I got Keith (my upstairs neighbor) to drive me up with him and his chicken.  We were running a little late, and so arrived as people started dishing up.
I was one of the last to get my food, and took a moment to look around the room as I sat down.  I found myself struck by the diversity in the room, which I will describe by telling you what we all can and cannot eat.
Catalina’s a possibly observant Catholic, who avoided meat.  The Chinese international students didn’t know a lot of our American food and stuck with the Asian dishes more.  Hasan doesn’t drink, and neither does Keith.  Chris had his nice beer, and the rest of the guys favor super cheap beer.  I can’t have sugar or, as it’s Lent, carbonated beverages.
The thing about all of this is that we all totally understood.  No one gets shit for any of these diet choices, but it’s more than that.  All the cooks apologized to Catalina because she had very few options and we should have thought about it.  Allison was very disappointed in her brownies because they weren’t Marie-friendly, a phrase which has caught on among those who bake.  Everyone made an effort to be friendly to the Chinese guys, because they don’t hang out with us much, but we understand that they like to talk to the people they’re closer to because they’re shy and aren’t confident about their English.
Everyone in that room has some sort of baggage, some social oddity that could make a group event awkward, but no one cared.  We understand that Allison likes to leave early, and to speak loudly if Amanda’s husband Nathan comes because he nearly got blown up in Iraq and can’t hear very well.  As much crap as people talk during the week, these Friday night dinners seem to be a fantastic group that is really willing to accept everyone for who they are.
I think what cinched it was later in the night.  Hasan, Yang, Aaron and I went to shoot a basketball around.  Then Hasan got his football and they were tossing it around.  I was sorta nervous, but asked them to teach me how as I’ve never done that before.  There was no teasing, just the three guys very honestly teaching me how to do it.

Yeah, I think when colleges talk about diversity, this is what they mean.  I don’t even notice how white and American a room is anymore, because odds are it’s not anything like home.  We are also aware, though, that my small town midwest life is very different from growing up near NYC like Cassie did, or on the west coast like Megan J.  We’re aware that we’re different, and very excited about that.

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